I find the weirdest reading materials by accident sometimes. I found this book while searching for a picture book illustrated by Nikki McClure, and the cover was compelling – so I read the description. It was about the medeival period and a possible murder and a former nun disguised as a mute man raising her illigitimate son alone and suddenly I had to have it. It was based on a true story, even, and I’m a sucker for those.
The heroine’s son has been killed in a fire, along with some other boys in her village, and she and the other fathers (she is living as a man, remember) have decided to haul their bodies to the king and demand justice for their deaths. The loudest of the men is convinced that Jews are responsible – even though all of the Jews were driven from their village years before – and he convinces the others that the king should pay for not wiping out the Jews for good. This is, of course, a foolish idea. They are ill-prepared for such a journey and to travel the king’s highway without protection from the crown or a patron lord is practically suicide. Mear does not believe the story of evil Jews, and has seen evidence that one of the villagers is the culprit (and may even be the same person who killed her only female friend in the village a few years back). But she cannot bear the idea of being parted from her son, so she goes along, hoping to discover along the way who killed the boys and find some peace.
I devoured the first 1/4 of the book in worshipful fascination. This book was beautiful! I had discovered the book that could live forever in my heart with along with Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book! Mear’s love for her son, her grief at the loss of his father – it was almost poetic. But then slowly, the whole story just lost its way. I began it so eager to find out who Mear was, why she had fled the monastery where she was raised, who her son’s father was , why he wasn’t present and who murdered the boys and why – but as the story went on, none of these things seemed to matter any more – I just wanted them to stop wandering around in the snow with a cartload of dead bodies, fighting amongst themselves whevever they weren’t fighting off people bent on killing them. Anyway, by the time the questions were all answered, I didn’t really care any more. Plus some of the events were so totally unbelievable I couldn’t forgive the author at all for putting them in. The idea that this ragtag group could survive all of the things they survived, only to fail so miserably at other, simpler tasks, seemed laughable. I finished the book, but under protest.
I don’t know. Maybe this was just a case where my disappointment in the end has colored the whole book for me. I still do think that the first part of the book was wonderful, so maybe another reader would like it just fine.